A society for interactive ethnograhy..

Jonathan Smith (jasmith@U.WASHINGTON.EDU)
Mon, 6 Mar 1995 14:28:40 -0800

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The following is a tentative statement of purpose for a proposed
new group. It is not intended as the final copy. If this not not your
cup of tea please delete this message..

A. Overview

The Society for Interactive Ethnography and Ethno-History is (to
be) an informal association of people interested in the development of
tools and techniques for the construction of computer-based interactive
simulations of human societies to be used in social science education and
research. Interactive Ethnography (IE) as I define it (very broadly)
includes historical reconstruction and simulation of contemporary
cultures and places.

The key features of a program that make it an interactive
ethnography is that the simulation: (1) can be explored as a first
person character, that is a user can enter and play a human role in the
simulation; (2) Tries to provide an environment where the user can
directly participate in (a representation of) the socio-cultural life of
a place or human group; and (3) is intended to promote informed critical
dialogue about social or socio-ecological systems, issues, and events.

IE provides a powerful tool for social science education,
allowing an author to implement social microworlds that may be explored
by students.

IE simulations have been developed using multi-user textual
virtual reality language servers such as MOO and COOL, interactive
fiction authoring packages such as Inform and TADS; multimedia authoring
tools such as Supercard, Toolbook, and Director; and may someday be
developed using graphical virtual reality systems (though I personally
prefer multi-user textual VR or interactive fiction).

B. A Few (Hypothetical) Examples

The following are just a few examples of (possible) future
projects. This list is provided to help readers understand what I mean
by Interactive Ethnography.

(Note that all of these examples are drawn from my own areas of
interest -- that is cultural, political, and disease ecology. Other
members will be encouraged to add their own examples..)

1. The participant plays the role of a public health worker
attempting to track down a number of people infected with multiple-drug
resistant TB on the streets (and homes and hospitals and bars..) of New
York. The goal is to understand the social aspects of the development
and spread of MDR TB.

2. The participant finds herself at Fort Vancouver (The
Hudson's Bay Co. trading post) in 1834. Soon after s/he arrives a
malaria epidemic breaks out killing a large proportion of the indigenous
population on the lower Columbia river.

3. The participant finds herself as a public health worker
in rural Bangladesh during the floods of 1988. S/he has to figure out
what has happened to (especially child) health and how that society is
reacting to the changes in public health and loss of land.

C. Society for IE Goals

1. To promote the development of interactive ethnographic
simulations as a tool for education and research. To support research
that will attempt to provide a through understanding of the strengths and
weaknesses of IE as tools for education and decision making.

2. To promote the advancement and sharing of techniques and
ideas for the effective design and construction of IE simulations.

3. To conduct research that will help understand the impact
and utility of multi-user participation and IE simulations that are
social experiments with multiple users.

4. To promote intelligent constructive criticism of IE
simulations and the development of critical theory that can be applied to
such works.

5. To promote the development of tools for programming
interactive ethnographic simulations, and to influence the development of
existing tools to better support IE authoring.

6. To support research into advanced techniques and
technologies that can be applied to IE authoring, for example the
application of techniques from artificial intelligence to the design of
natural language understanding and generation and to the construction of
goal directed simulated agents.

E. Joining

The society will be an informal, member oriented, democratically
run organization. The organization will come into existence in three
stages. (1) A initial mailing list and directory of potential members
will be created; (2) A small group of volunteers with organize the agenda
and presentations for the initial on-line meeting; and (3) An on line
meeting will be held to inaugurate the society.

To be added to the initial mailing list send a message to
'jasmith@u.washington.edu'. Mention "IE" on the subject subject line.
(This is just my usual email address.. no junk email please!) Please
mention something about your background, interests, and projects
underway. Include you email address and any other network locations
(URLs, MOO names and so on.)


Jonathan Smith email: jasmith@u.washington.edu

Diversity University MOO: JASmith (The main place to find me on-line) at
telnet moo.du.org 8888